By Jim Hagan

It is quite an interesting time in the world of media agencies, and it has been for quite some time now.  From acquisitions, to mergers, and more importantly disruption.  Disruption in the sense that new players are coming into the game that are getting a lot of press. And they aren’t part of duopolies, holding companies, or massive ecommerce platforms.  Rather, it’s more niche, independent agencies that are gaining steam as the traditional agency model loses steam.

Like many other people within our world, I’ve had the pleasure to be on both sides of this fence –working within a smaller, independent agency with a couple hundred employees as well as a larger holding company with global reach and thousands of employees.  Both got me to where I am today – both taught me so much – both gave me relationships and friends. 

This blog isn’t to tout one over the other, but to outline how smaller, niche, independent agencies can thrive in an era where large holding companies & giant media platforms will continue to be impressive media behemoths.

Q&A time…with myself.

So, can every independent agency compete with the holding companies of the world? Absolutely not, hard no.  Can they thrive and withstand the ever-evolving marketing landscape once they find their niche within the verticals their tools and skillsets excel in?  1000% yes.

Yeah, right.  How?

I thought you’d never ask.  Although there are a few different aspects to this answer, one of them is money.  There’s a ton of untapped marketing dollars out there from brands that are small & niche themselves.  They need agency support that is hands on with unique capabilities that are customized to their every need. And they have marketing budgets that are nothing short of impressive. 

Large agencies just don’t have the desire to entertain smaller brands.  And that’s not a knock on them.  And it’s not because the money isn’t there either.  But whether it’s very regional brands, to brands that require hyper-local support, some agencies are just better equipped to handle more niche activations within tighter budget constraints.  It’s in their wheelhouse.  Let the holding companies support CPGs and global brands.  Let us small powerhouses thrive in the weeds.

Necessary Nimbleness

Now, the other thing independent agencies have going for them is the ability to be agile and lightning quick.  From planning to activation to analysis.  The silos of the traditional agency model aren’t much of a factor with smaller shops.  The singular focus of the entire agency is rooted in one mission – client service & success.  Each client means something.  And they mean a lot.

Whereas larger media buying groups may encounter internal roadblocks and hurdles.  They all have channel experts and teams competing for the same marketing dollars.  Just as important, now that many channels have programmatic capabilities, teams are competing for which channel they own.  Channel implementation and the traditional agency structure are beginning to see way too many blurred lines and grey areas.   That’s where the smaller shops can find those efficiencies & develop that nimbleness that brands need and expect today.  The drive to push your client forward is much more satisfying then playing a budget tug-of-war.

Embrace the Change

Of course, it’s daunting to be a smaller, independent shop in the sea of agencies.  That’s no reason to give up.  That’s more of a reason to figure out a way to become something special and to be put in a class that’s all your own. 

But just because you are smaller, nimble, and independent isn’t an automatic recipe for success.

To get there, evolve and find your niche.  Stick to it but keep growing.  If needed, redefine your agency’s strategy and maintain the goals that will support that strategy.

Keep learning.  Keep challenging what you’ve done in the past.  What worked 5 years ago isn’t going to be relevant today.

The tools that you’ve built can always be better.  In order to enhance your offering, both people and tools must grow.  Be curious and invest.  Don’t get complacent.  Your competitors aren’t.   

Who your target client base was then, may not be who it is now.  Brands evolve too.  Playing the easy hand and calling on the same brands will only get you exactly where you may be today.  Get creative and embrace the change.

As independent agencies find their sweet spots, they’ll grow organically and have that opportunity to flourish and continue to grow larger, stronger and become an entity that rivals every single agency out there!